Political Science

1. When it comes to South Carolina, he is a cornball, but a likable one.

2. He played Strato-O-Matic baseball as a kid.  No mention of Jim Bunning in that context.

3. After two years at Harvard, he had taken only Econ 101.  Later Dale Jorgensen became his mentor.

4. He is a fan of Borges, with the influence coming from his wife, who has taught Spanish literature.

5. He regrets his earlier tough rhetoric on the Japanese central bank.

6. Greenspan’s marriage proposal to Andrea Mitchell was riddled with his trademark ambiguity.  Bernanke, in contrast, proposed after two months of courtship.

7. Bernanke underestimated the extent of the housing bubble.  Various negative consequences were to ensue from the collapse of housing prices.

8. “I had never gone overboard on libertarianism…”

9. Ben got really, really mad at the AIG chief executives, in fact he “seethed.”

10. The Fed did not have a good, legal way to bail out Lehman.  It needed a buyer, and no buyer was to be found.  A short-term infusion of cash would not have sufficed.  And Ben was afraid at the time that if he confessed the Fed’s impotence in this regard, the market reaction would have been negative.

11. The idea of a mortgage cram down made good sense but was never politically feasible.

12. “So, by setting the interest rate we paid on reserves high enough, we could prevent the federal funds rate from falling too low.”

13. I found the discussions of Wachovia and WaMu came the closest to offering new perspective and information.  Perhaps he was able to say more because these actions did not skirt the possibility of the Fed exceeding its mandate.

14. He had a favorable impression of the frankness of John McCain.

15. He thought QE should been done through the purchase of corporate bonds, but the Fed didn’t have the right kind of authority at that time.

16. He argues that the idea of ngdp targeting is too complicated and could not easily be made credible, given that the Fed has built up its reputation as an inflation fighter.  It also raises the risk that a non-credible ngdp target wouldn’t boost output, but would deliver price inflation, thereby resurrecting stagflation as a potential problem.  (By the way, here is Scott’s response.)

17. He is still upset at the coverage he received from Paul Krugman.

18. In Nunavut he passed on raw seal meat and a dogsled ride.

The bottom lines: This book has way, way more economics than I expected and probably more than the publisher wanted.  It really is Ben’s attempt to defend his place in history, and yes the book does deliver a huge dose of Bernanke.  This is not ghostwritten fluff.  It does not however dish much “dirt” or shed much new light on the key episodes of the financial crisis.  Both in public and in the book Ben has been extremely gentlemanly.  Still, as I kept on reading I could not escape the feeling that he is deeply, deeply annoyed by many of his critics, and very much determined to tell the story from his point of view.  That is what you get from this book.

Despite the cloud cast by the Volkswagen scandal, automakers are proposing that they be allowed a 70 percent increase in the nitrogen oxides their cars emit, unreleased documents show, as part of new European pollution tests.

Under the new plan, cars in Europe would for the first time be tested on the road, using portable monitoring equipment, in addition to laboratory testing.

The automakers, which include Volkswagen, General Motors, Daimler, BMW, Toyota, Renault, PSA Peugeot Citroën, Ford and Hyundai, are essentially conceding what outside groups have said for some time — that the industry cannot meet pollution regulations when cars are taken out of testing laboratories.

Here is the Danny Hakim NYT story.

Are free trade agreements contagious?  The negotiations for TPP seem to be coming to a close, but there is the potential for a much more beneficial arrangement, namely for the subcontinent and thereabouts, can we toss in Ethiopia too?

India has said that all South Asian economies need to speedily work towards a free trade area within the region with a defined time-line, preferably 2020, as the first step towards achieving the joint vision of a South Asian Economic Union.

“I am confident that consensus can be achieved for a defined time-line for 100 per cent tariff liberalisation with special and differential treatment for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and vulnerable economies,” Commerce & Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said at the South Asia Economic Conclave organised by the Commerce Ministry and industry body CII on Tuesday.

While India has already allowed duty-free access to goods from LDC countries of South Asia as part of the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), it is ready to go to 100 per cent for non-LDCs, too, as per the Safta roadmap agreed by India with Pakistan in November 2012, Sitharaman said.

At least four of the eight SAARC countries — which include India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan — are looking at a free trade area by 2020. India is willing to take asymmetric responsibility towards achieving the goal, she added.

The full story is here.

Here you will find the transcript, video, and podcast.  The summary is this:

Tyler and Harvard economist Dani Rodrik discuss premature deindustrialization, the world’s trilemmas, the political economy of John le Carré, what’s so special about manufacturing, Orhan Pamuk, RCTs, and why the world is second best at best.

Here is one excerpt from Rodrik, on why Turkey and some comparable countries did not fully modernize:

my general sort of question would be 50 percent structure, 50 percent agency, which is to say you start with a lot of initial conditions that aren’t very favorable. Going back to the 19th century, you start on the wrong end of the global division of labor. Everybody else is industrialized and you’re not, plus, then, the British come and they open up your trade regime and all the craft industries you have in the 18th century are just decimated because of imports from Britain and other Western Europeans.

Then you get defeated in a world war. You start in very inauspicious circumstances.

Then agency. What happened, for example, under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who was the leader who made Turkey, who took Turkey from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire, erected the Turkish republic on top of that. He did a lot of very good things and a lot of very silly things, and we’re still living with the consequences of many of those things, including the good things.

I asked him this:

You were born in Turkey, you grew up in Turkey. I have so many questions about Turkey to ask you, but let me just try two or three. Let’s take the Turkish city of Konya. I’ve been to Konya. Outsiders sometimes call Konya the bible belt of Turkey. I’m not sure that’s a good comparison, but it’s a more religious city than Istanbul. It’s a kind of heartland city in Turkey.

Just a little simple question. I would put it this way. Do you trust the median voter in Konya?

And a short one from Rodrik again:

Culture is back in economics. I still have to be convinced that it’s actually adding a significant amount to what we learn.

In terms of economic prospects, he picks Brazil as the most underrated country and India as the most overrated.  And you can see what he thinks of the idea of an independent Catalonia…

You should all buy and read Dani’s new book, Economics Rules: The Rights and Wrongs of the Dismal Science, which I can recommend wholeheartedly and which I wrote a blurb for.

*Henry Kissinger*

by on October 1, 2015 at 7:40 am in Books, History, Law, Political Science | Permalink

The subtitle is 1923-1968: The Idealist, and the author is Niall Ferguson.  This is really an impressive book and we all should be envious that we did not write it ourselves.

Here is one line from Kissinger, cited by Ferguson:

“Ninety percent of the politicians give the other ten percent a bad reputation.”

Over at NYT Andrew Roberts very much likes the book and basically calls it a masterpiece.  Some people are all aflutter over this supposed Greg Grandin Gawker “take down,” but in fact both the book and the review are superb and I am glad the Times stood by it.  Definitely recommended, this is one of the year’s musts.  I know you are all mature enough not to let your opinions on Ferguson’s politics interfere with your assessment of this work.

Upending conventional wisdom, there is now a strong chance that all the European governments that have accepted or implemented unpopular EU/IMF austerity programs may be re-elected in the coming months or remain the strongest political force.

That is from Paul Taylor at Reuters, via YanniKouts.

Transport for London is preparing to launch a crackdown on Uber, proposing a series of new rules that will hit the popular minicab-hailing app in one of its most popular cities.

…The proposals include a minimum five-minute wait time between ordering a private hire vehicle and it arriving, and banning operators from showing cars for hire within a smartphone app – a hallmark of the American company’s service.

No, this is not from an Ayn Rand novel.

These proposed rules so nakedly protect rent-seekers and make life worse for consumers that I don’t think they will succeed. Even if the rules fail, however, we shouldn’t be complacent about the dangers to innovation.

What made Uber different and controversial is that their Ayn Rand loving CEO followed the adage that it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission. Uber skirted the law and went to consumers directly about whether they wanted transportation innovation. Consumers around the world responded with a resounding Yes to the Uber-referendum so regulators and rent-seekers who want to control Uber now must also fight Uber-consumers. That genie won’t go back into the bottle.

In the usual scenario, however, innovation can be quashed before consumers have a chance to know what they are missing. Had the taxi companies had an inkling of what was coming it would have been easy to to pass stricter laws in advance that would have made Uber impossible to get off the ground. Of course, in many industries today the old guard does have an inkling of what is coming and that should frighten anyone who wants to see greater innovation.

A loyal MR reader writes to me:

If you taught the principles of effective altruism to a rich person in (say) 1400, what would they have thought was the most effective thing to do with their money?  What was in fact the most effective thing they could have done?

I say send some money to Henry IV.  On the year 1400 Wikipedia notes:

January – Henry IV of England quells the Epiphany Rising and executes the Earls of Kent, Huntingdon and Salisbury and the Baron le Despencer for their attempt to have Richard II restored as king.

England and the Industrial Revolution seemed to have worked out OK, and besides the Henriad provides some of Shakespeare’s most profound work, Orson Welles too.

I think you can see the problem.

But what would a rational Effective Altruist have thought at the time?  How about revising those early versions of the Poor Laws?

Alternatively, 1400 also was the year Chaucer died, and he was a pretty smart guy.  Since he worked for Henry’s father and was close to him, he might have given good advice, if only for self-interested reasons.  But who in 1400 was the best or most logical representative of Effective Altruism?  The theologian Alan of Lynn?  He might have told you to invest the money in making indexes of books, which seemed to be his main interestJean Gerson, if one looks to France for a thought leader, focused his energies to reconciling the Great Schism in the papacy.  Good idea or bad?  As Zhou Enlai said

Brink Lindsey is the editor, and I am one of the experts (is anyone an expert on economic growth?), here are the other contributors, and that is also a link to the underlying on-line symposium.  It is a $6.99 ebook on Amazon.  Here is Cato’s home page for the ebook.

Slate has an interesting interview with Leon Nayfakh speaking to John Pfaff, here is the critical excerpt from Pfaff:

What appears to happen during this time—the years I look at are 1994 to 2008, just based on the data that’s available—is that the probability that a district attorney files a felony charge against an arrestee goes from about 1 in 3, to 2 in 3. So over the course of the ’90s and 2000s, district attorneys just got much more aggressive in how they filed charges. Defendants who they would not have filed felony charges against before, they now are charging with felonies. I can’t tell you why they’re doing that. No one’s really got an answer to that yet. But it does seem that the number of felony cases filed shoots up very strongly, even as the number of arrests goes down.

You will note that district attorneys are relatively politically independent at this level.  And this:

But just letting people out of prison—decarcerating drug offenders—will not reduce the prison population by as much as people think. If you released every person in prison on a drug charge today, our state prison population would drop from about 1.5 million to 1.2 million. So we’d still be the world’s largest incarcerating country; we’d still have an enormous prison population.

Keep in mind that some in prison on drug charges are actually violent offenders who did a plea bargain down to a drug charge.

The interview also offers evidence against alternative explanations of the boom in the prison population, such as putting the blame on longer sentences.  Here is Pfaff’s home page and his related papers.

Not so well:

…the time when the country was able to make economically unprofitable investments on the basis of political motives is long gone. Beijing had intended to invest more than $900 billion in infrastructure expansion in Eurasia. However, the money is now needed to stabilize its stagnating economy and nervous financial markets. China‘s currency reserves decreased drastically in August.

Due to financing difficulties a number of infrastructure projects have come to a standstill. For example, the gas pipeline known as “Power of Siberia,” the subject of an agreement signed by Russia and China in May last year, is in danger of flopping. In addition to this, the release of funds for the construction of the Altai gas pipeline to connect western Siberia and China has been delayed indefinitely.

At a more basic level, the OBOR represents an economic step backwards: instead of placing more emphasis on domestic demand, Beijing is speculating on new export markets in unstable regions such as Pakistan. The overcapacity of Chinese state-owned enterprises are not addressed but simply exported abroad. In this way the leadership is hampering its own ability to overcome the structural crisis of the Chinese growth model.

For the time being, OBOR remains a speculative bubble…

At the same time, there is a lack of partners for the OBOR initiative: China is virtually on its own. The Chinese leadership has until now only been able to reach a handful of vague cooperation agreements, such as those with Russia and Hungary. But none of those states (and maybe not even China itself) know what OBOR really means. Xi Jinping wants to promote the idea of a “community of common destiny”. He has, however, not been able to convey what this term signifies and he has failed to convince other states why the OBOR should be attractive for other countries.

The full story is here, and here is my earlier post on The New Silk Road.

You’ll find a list of skeptical worries here from Chris Buckley, most of them justified.  In a nutshell, if you can’t believe their gdp numbers you also can’t believe their cap and trade plan.  I am nonetheless more optimistic about this recent development.  It signals a few things:

1. The Chinese have decided to make “doing something about carbon” a potential source of soft power in the international arena.  They are giving themselves an option on this path, and in the meantime trying to minimize the reputational deficit they face from being the world’s largest source of carbon.

2. The Chinese plan to cut pollution in at least some of their major cities soon, and they want to claim credit for that action in advance.  (In fact they are surprised how rapidly some of those days of blue skies have appeared in Beijing, whether that be the added regulation or the economic slowdown.)  “Carbon emissions” and “pollution” are hardly identical, but still the government is repositioning itself rapidly on the issue of pollution more generally.  This is one welcome part of that broader shift, so don’t worry if not all the details add up.

3. The Chinese leadership expects the domestic economy to be weak for a while, so they can announce a semi-serious carbon cap and meet it, without actually giving up any economic growth.  Of course this #3 isn’t good news on the economic front, but maybe the Chinese government first does need a period of time where such a policy has zero economic cost.

The evidence from the European Union is that their cap and trade program hasn’t worked well, mostly because of time consistency problems, namely that more and more permits are issued and the cap ends up weak over time.  That same problem may or may not apply to China.  But even a strong pessimist about cap and trade can be modestly optimistic about the new Chinese announcement.

Our empirical subjects are public and private entities’ compliance with the U.S. Clean Air Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. We find that, compared with private firms, governments violate these laws significantly more frequently and are less likely to be penalized for violations.

That is from Konisky and Teodoro, via Robin Hanson.

I am delighted to have been reading this 2001 history, which is now one of my favorite books on China.  It is perhaps the best background I know for understanding current Chinese foreign policy, even though it does not focus on foreign policy per se.  Do you wish to understand why the 19th century was so traumatic for China?  How the Opium Wars and Taiping rebellion fit together?  Why Manchuria was once such a flash point for global affairs? (Has any region fallen out of the major news so dramatically?)  How is this for a good sentence?:

The 1929 Sino-Soviet conflict is perhaps China’s least studied and understood war.

I learned something from every page, you can buy the book here.

Elsewhere on the China front:

The flash reading of the Caixin China general manufacturing purchasing managers’ index dropped to 47 points in September, down from 47.3 in August, marking the worst performance for the sector in 78 months.

A reading above 50 indicates improving conditions while a reading below 50 signals deterioration. The index has now indicated contraction in the sector for seven consecutive months.

How quickly do services have to be expanding for the entire Chinese economy to be growing at anything close to six percent?

Imagine a deal where America and Russia agree on combating ISIS in Syria, admittedly through the sad means of supporting or at least tolerating Assad.  After all, we were all able to agree on Iran, right?

Russia also will agree to keep Snowden away from the embarrassment of a trial and conviction in the United States.  Easier for Obama to let sleeping dogs lie.

America and China could agree on how close American planes and ships could come to the artificial islands.  The Philippines could be part of that deal.

We know which two nations need to lead a climate change agreement.

Toss in a U.S.-China bilateral investment treaty.

Then there’s the arms control agreement for cyberspace, for all three nations, maybe someday Iran too.

Up to forty different U.S.-Chinese agreements have been predicted — after all, Uncle Xi has to come home with something.

It all seems so easy, and logical too.  But, unfortunately, international politics is rarely so straightforwardly Coasian.  Maybe the bilateral investment treaty will come to pass!

For a useful conversation I thank J.